Everyone knows that technology and health has been making beautiful music together for a while now. As innovation advances, the evolution of health wearables introduce us to a bio-sensing smart lens that can detect an array of health conditions.
Researchers from Oregon State University have introduced contact lens that have the ability to let the wearer know when their blood sugar is getting too low. Leveraging the power of ultra-thin transistor technology, the lab-tested prototype, at the moment, only detect blood glucose levels. Inspired to help people with diabetes, researcher Herman hoped that this form of monitoring will less painful.
It wasn’t that long ago, in 2014, when Google started testing a smart contact lens that was built to measure glucose levels in tears using a tiny wireless chip and miniaturized glucose sensor. Not to be out shined Samsung filed a patent application around the same time that confirmed that the company was developing a smart contact lenses called Gear Blink trademark. Not deterred by the attempts made by Google and Samsung, the Oregon State University researcher’s hope that their prototype will soon be able to detect other medical conditions, including life changing illnesses like cancer.
Herman predicts that more than 2,500 biosensors will be embedded in a 1-millimeter square patch of an IGZO contact lens. On his prediction, Herman shared with Gizmodo; “There is a fair amount of information that can be monitored in a teardrop. Of course, there is glucose, but also lactate (sepsis, liver disease), dopamine (glaucoma), urea (renal function), and proteins (cancers). Our goal is to expand from a single sensor to multiple sensors.”
The transparent biosensor was created using the same semiconductor that ensures higher resolution in televisions, smartphones, and tablets. Composed of the compound gallium zinc oxide (IGZO), the prototype contains a transparent sheet of IGZO transistors and glucose oxidase—an enzyme that breaks down glucose. It works when the biosensor comes into contact with glucose. When this happens the enzyme oxidizes the blood sugar causing the pH level in the mixture to shift. This reaction triggers measurable changes in the electrical current flowing through the IGZO transistors.
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So what is next? Well the researchers hope that it won’t be long before they start testing their biosensing contact lens on animals. Hoping to make all the components completely invisible, they foresee their disposable lenses being able to transmit data outside of the sensor. When it comes to affordability, Herman doesn’t see this as a problem. “We are using a technology that is very similar to what is used for cell phones, the IGZO thin film transistors. One hundred transistors in a cell phone display are going to cost less than ten cents.” But as he himself admits, “there are other costs that will need to come down.”
Practical, safer, and far less intrusive, the transparent biosensor future is looking bright. The good news is that the technologies required to build this non-invasive diagnostic device are already available. The bad news is that it will at least be a few years before we are able to take advantage of these amazing contact lenses.